November is National Adoption Month, a topic close to my heart. Two years ago, I wrote a blog entry about a very important aspect of our adoption experience, and it remains one of the my most viewed posts. I am re-posting it today in the spirit of the month. If you are planning to expand your family, please consider adoption.
Originally posted November 5, 2011
On Joy and Sadness
I’ve gotten some really great feedback on my post about adoption, so in the spirit of National Adoption Month, I will continue with another entry about our experience. Translation—getting serious again. I have changed the names of those involved out of respect for their privacy.
We were uniquely blessed when our adoption came about. We were contacted by an old family friend who had just learned their teenage daughter was pregnant, after hearing just days before through another mutual friend that my husband and I were about to re-start (that’s a story for another time) the adoption process. We were lucky to start off not as strangers, but as old friends separated by time.
Having not seen them for years, we got in touch that night on the phone, and in my elated state of disbelief at our great fortune, I was brought back to earth by my first glimpse of the reality of adoption, one that you don’t hear much about. One that, in my opinion, is critically important we as adoptive families keep in mind: our joy comes at the expense of others. Where we gain, they lose in equal measure.
Speaking with Karen that night, I heard the pain of a worried mother, listened to the strained tone of her voice, aware of the struggle they were already facing. They had just been to the women’s clinic, and had learned that Jenny was five months pregnant. Imagine, if you can, the weight of that kind of information. Your daughter, not yet old enough to drive a car, was going to give birth in mere months. Their lives were in turmoil, turned upside down by the news. As I spoke to her, I tried to rein in my excitement and reassure her that we were already absolutely committed to this baby, and would do everything in our power to help ease their minds. I volunteered to fly down to meet Jenny, and told her I would call our adoption agency first thing in the morning to get the ball rolling and put our adoption study on a “rush.”
As the months rolled by, my first visit turned into a birth plan. I was invited by the family to come down before the birth and stay with them until the baby was born, and would even get to be in the delivery room. I knew this was a risk, but it was just as much a risk for them. What if I fall in love, and they change their minds? How will I do this, with my husband at home in Wisconsin, 600 miles away? Could my heart take it if they wound up changing their minds? Could their hearts take it if they didn’t? What would this mean for all of us?
Two weeks before Jenny’s due date, I got on a plane, my bags filled with baby clothes, the tags still on. I couldn’t bring myself to remove them, despite Jenny’s reassurances that she would not be changing her mind. Everyone was on board, birth father included, but I was still afraid to let myself truly believe this would be a reality. As we waited for the birth, I got to know both families so well, and I could really appreciate how much love and heartache is involved in their decision. Is there a love stronger than that? Choosing to give someone else the gift of a family? Loving a child so much that you choose a life you can’t give them?
I spent a full month with Jenny’s family, living in their home, sharing in their meals, welcomed into their family. My heart was both swelling with excitement and breaking for these birth families as the days passed. The more I got to know them, the more I could see the love and selflessness it takes to do what they’ve done. It was a risk for all of us. How would this work once the baby was born? How would they be able to let us go? How would we be able to leave them?
My husband was a few hours away when our son was born, having left our house when Jenny went into labor. We would drive home together; the three of us a brand new family, once the ICPC office and both states cleared us to leave. He couldn’t get to us fast enough, eager to meet the son we hoped would be ours. Jenny’s commitment to the adoption was now being fought by the hormones in her body, the maternal instinct flowing through her veins. She still wanted the adoption to go through, and with the strength of her mother at her side, we were pretty sure this was going to actually happen.
It’s hard to describe the simultaneous joy and sadness this time brought to us. Holding our son in our arms the first time was a happiness like no other, but it was a feeling of elation tempered by the grieving process Jenny and her family were experiencing. The hospital let me room-in with our newborn boy, for which I was extraordinarily grateful, but just a few doors down his birth mother was grieving for the son she would never get to raise. She ached for him. She wept for him. Those two nights in the hospital were a delicate and sad dance, his bassinette rolling back and forth between rooms, all of us doing our best to share this beautiful boy we’d all fallen in love with, balancing our need to bond with their need to spend as much time as they could with him, time that was fleeting, slipping through their fingers like sand.
We offered to leave the room when she signed the papers that morning, her family, the social worker and an attorney all crammed into too small a room. Jenny asked us to stay, so we did, holding our breath as she signed the papers, tears slipping down our cheeks each time the attorney asked her to be sure she understood her signature was irrevocable. We hugged her and promised to be the parents this sweet little boy deserved, we told her we loved her, that we could never really put in words our gratitude, and that we would always make sure he knows how much she loves him. Our words couldn’t possibly have been enough.
A week later the time had finally come. We were heading home, eager to start our lives together. I will never in my life forget that morning. The car was loaded up with a month of my things, and far more baby gear than anyone would ever need—a true sign of first time parents. We came back in the house and watched as Jenny said goodbye, a tiny miracle lying against her chest, silent tears rolling down her cheeks as she cradled him and whispered in his ear.
Thank you. All of you. For your love, your selflessness, the wisdom beyond your years and your amazing sacrifice. We are more grateful than we can ever say, and we think of you with love every day. I wish I could find the right words to tell you how much you mean to us.